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Saga Star Wars: Mini-Narratives

Discussion in 'Star Wars Saga In-Depth' started by Ingram_I, May 9, 2013.

  1. Ingram_I

    Ingram_I Jedi Master star 4

    Sep 7, 2012
    PART 1
    In honor of both Star Wars Month of May and the 30th anniversary of Return of the Jedi.

    Looking back over the six Star Wars films to understand what defines them, both individually and as a franchise body, so much has been said concerning their broader tonal and aesthetic forms. In today’s media you don’t have to look hard to find a review, analysis or a 'making-of' featurette that highlights the films as works of vintage space opera or their roots in B-serials, Campbell’s monomyth theories or Kurosawa cinema, to name the most direct influences. Other more obscure and esoteric discussions dig deep into the interpretative aspects, addressing the likes of coded imagery and arcane references to human culture and psychology (mstrmnd, at your own risk). And then, of course, there are countless blogs and message board discussion that bitch and praise and nitpick and reminisce the films indefinitely, to no end. I myself have been passively studying these films for some time now, for as long as I’ve been learning about filmmaking in general. But it wasn’t until the past year or so that I began to notice a key ingredient inherent throughout George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, one that really cuts to the core of its storytelling mechanics: mini-narratives.

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    In the alternate Blu-ray commentary track for Attack of the Clones, during the asteroid battle seen above between Obi-Wan and Jango Fett, Lucas casually refers to the action scene as one that advances through stages, with each stage telling a little story, and then goes on to say how individual action set pieces throughout the film likewise tell little stories, each with a beginning, middle and end. I found this curious. The traditional mindset approach is that action by itself is meaningless and that, ideally, it should remain an apparatus-effect to whatever the larger story-cause; the end result of some dramatic conflict or maybe an event that either puts the plot into motion or alters its trajectory.

    This is the traditional screenwriting sensibility, to which average films of even lesser quality adhere, only to then falter in discipline and lose sight, thus giving way to the typical criticisms of "too much explosions and not enough story" or "full of spectacle but thin on story" etc. It is a mindset that views action and story as being naturally opposed to one another, and that only through careful scripting can-and-should the former server the latter by flowing from it organically. Filmmakers are constantly challenged to make these ends meet. Yet Lucas’ mindset is different, fundamentally so.

    This might be something of an epiphany, at least for me. On screen, nearly all of Star Wars is built on such mini-narratives. Throughout the saga virtually every scene, set piece and even cutaway to a strip of motion or some quirky strand is, at the very least, in essence, telling a story. What’s surprising is that so many of these mini-narratives are not vital to the ongoing plot. This might seem counterintuitive to your typical film school, Syd Field 101 edict. Yet it’s important to understand that in cinema, particularly pure cinema, script does not equate story, but is merely a preliminary step. One cannot really discuss story without discussing what is happening visually, on screen. Not only does Lucas seem to understand this as a filmmaker but further embraces it to its most esoteric extreme.

    To tell a story is an act of expression, and when your medium is audiovisual, every order of business down to the smallest detail has the potential to express personality or a motif, or to further illustrate the world in which your larger story is set. The world of Star Wars is fabricated entirely from scratch. Total fantasy. And yet I dare anyone here to name an onscreen fictional universe that feels more immersive and fully realized; a universe so completely alive and seemingly limitless in its minutiae. I’m not just talking about the ever-increasing volume of panoramic vista shots and backgrounds and environments with photorealistic FX. Countless other fantasy and sci-fi films have done that. What separates the world of Star Wars from the rest is that it’s a world articulated well beyond the confines of the main plot. And it’s with mini-narratives that Lucas achieved this exploration.

    Epic, fate-altering events in A New Hope concerns a super battle station that threatens to wipeout the entire Rebel Alliance and mythic archetypes that must begin their journey by answering the hero’s call. Peculiar, then, that the film’s first act spends some 10 minutes following two droids on a bumbling excursion through the middle of desert planet nowhere. Sure, it’s tangential to the larger story in basic causality sense, but a whole scene of a bucket shaped robot poking along a rocky path and being tasered by hooded pygmies is played out methodically to the extent that, if tuning in at this very moment, one might assume they were watching a The Adventures of R2-D2 movie. Again, this is because Lucas renders every scene as a story unto itself.

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    Perhaps a more potent example would be the TIE-fighter attack upon the Millennium Falcon post Death Star escape. For starters, this scene makes no sense. Why would General Tarkin order his fighters to attack the very ship that will lead the Empire to the hidden Rebel base? Why risk destroying your one lead? It could be argued that the attack was designed as a ruse. Fair enough, I suppose. But it doesn’t really matter either way. The surface intent for the sequence was to thrill audiences with some good ol’special effects spectacle; the inner purpose was to enchant them with an array of pure motion and sound, using a mini-action narrative to reduce cinema to a series of abstract forms. Star Wars is a far more abstract work of art than most people realize—far stranger than most are willing to consider.

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    This avant-garde sensibility goes all the way back to THX 1138. In that film the title character undergoes three separate narratives where he must break free from three separate versions of a dystopian world: the emotional, cerebral and physical. American Graffiti is divided up into a series of vignettes where kids, cars and nighttime environs are made equal and studied coolly with a kind of observationalism. Likewise with Star Wars does Lucas use mini-narratives to study both the various life forms and technology of a galaxy-wide canvas. He is what I refer to as an artifact filmmaker, fashioning a work of cinema into something that feels as if it was found or projected from some other reality, on said reality’s terms. There’s an anthropological quality to it. To put a finer point on this quality is to understand how it expresses themes.

    Consider the giant space slug escape in The Empire Strikes Back. Removing this sequence altogether from the film would have no bearing on the main storyline. The narrative could simply be rewritten with the Falcon hiding inside an asteroid for duration, providing Han and Leia with the same romantic interlude, before taking off again. Nothing would change plot-wise. However, keeping the sequence in the film not only enriches an already illustrative world but also connects to something deeper in the story’s subtext, and Star Wars is nothing if not a bonanza of subtext. Empire is about caves. It’s about introspection, looking inward. The entire film responds to its predecessor as a metaphorical recess into the psyche. It is in caves that our heroes discover monsters, hidden truths, redefinitions. One mini-narrative sees Luke awoken inside an ice cave, hung upside down; from this capsized state we first witness his telekinetic Force power. Another cave he explores on Dagobah reveals manifestations of the Dark Side. Beneath the Bespin cloud city he slowly enters yet another low-lit hollow, this time technological, when searching out his enemy. All three instances lead to story developments of one kind or another. The asteroid cave-turned-belly-of-the-beast recalls Pinocchio and Gepetto’s escape from the whale, and goes on to symbolize the film’s anthem: everything is inverted, nothing is what it seems. Han might as well be saying, "This is no ordinary sequel!"

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  2. Ingram_I

    Ingram_I Jedi Master star 4

    Sep 7, 2012
    PART 2

    A vaguely similar mini-narrative in The Phantom Menace follows two Jedi Knights and a village idiot as they journey through Naboo’s planet core. Once again audiences are treated to an unusually meandering set piece, this time exploring an entire aquatic innerverse both separate from and unaffected by the galactic happenings above. But it’s simply one cosmic play briefly standing in for another, whereupon observing its nature Qui-Gon wisely comments an ecumenical truth, "There’s always a bigger fish."

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    Earlier I mentioned strips of motion, which I consider this mini-narrative language at its most basic, cinematic prose. It’s certainly Lucas’ most native tongue as a filmmaker: speed, motion, engines, editing. No other director is more obsessed with kinesics; with moving things across the frame, through frames, or the frame itself through space. And, in my opinion, no other director is as gifted in the style. In typical Star Wars fashion, a scene of talky drama between Luke and Leia in Return of the Jedi is preceded by speeder bike chase that is, in fact, the first instance where the film, before a now knowing audience, accentuates the sibling connection by pushing it into sensory overdrive, using a mini-narrative pursuit to streamline brother and sister to an immediate, visceral level; they’re familial bond pedestaled amidst a blurred background, whining engines and forested whistles. Lucas is using velocity and its wind instrumentation effect to express his characters, demoting a later scene of dialogue to secondary position.

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    The aforesaid dogfight in Attack of the Clones is really quite fascinating as an aural tone-poem. The echo of the Slave I’s thrusters sets the auditory stage while seismic chargers render vacuums that weirdly make conscious the cinematic artifice of this whole big Star Wars thing with momentary soundless snapshots. The fallowing droid factory set piece has since been called frivolous by many naysayers, but here lies a mini-narrative that at once mirrors the Kamino clone factory while also branching out into four separate mini-mini-narratives, each divided up literally by videogame-like levels of the factory setting. Again, we’re seeing a fantastic world explored down to every nook and cranny.
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    It is intriguing to consider whether these mini-narratives are detours from the main story or if the main story, in all its operatic grander, is merely a detour from an infinitely larger macroverse rife with trillions of stories big and small, alternately epic and fleeting. Therefore, mini-narratives are perhaps not just accessories to Star Wars but the very language of its storytelling; the Skywalker saga and surrounding societal upheaval relayed cinematically by a selection of little stories that directly, indirectly and even abstractly constellate a whole.

    Other broad examples:​

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    An interesting mini-narrative that is almost entirely motionless and mood-driven.
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  3. Han Burgundy

    Han Burgundy Jedi Master star 3

    Jan 28, 2013
    I've noticed it too! Though I've never really put it into words like you have.

    The Indiana Jones films use mini-narratives extensively as well. I think it adds to the charm of both series.
  4. jc1138

    jc1138 Jedi Master star 2

    Nov 16, 2004
    Well stated! Gives one much to think about.

    I always thought the Geonosis factory scene added a lot, not least of which was foreshadowing Anakin's mechanization, and Anakin/Padme's separation by the war machine. As you imply, each scene in SW fills multiple roles.
  5. Seagoat

    Seagoat PT and Music Section Dictator star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Jan 25, 2013
    That's it, George Lucas is doubtlessly the greatest filmmaker of our time
  6. Cryogenic

    Cryogenic Force Ghost star 5

    Jul 20, 2005
    Great thread. :cool: ^:)^

    Yes. On some level, however, it is difficult to separate any of these things: coded imagery, arcane references to human culture and psychology, mini-narratives, etc., into discrete categories that are a) real, and b) do not overlap. The amazing thing about Star Wars is its concision. So much has been compressed into such a small pocket of cinematic space and time, relatively speaking (!), that everything is chattering away with everything else and in an endless state of paradox. This, ultimately, makes a mockery of seeing and analysis of any and all kinds. We can attempt to winnow -- your attempt here is estimable, I think -- but we will always come up short. Still, there is a lot of fun in the attempt; and that's what it's all about, isn't it?

    I say all that, really, as a disclaimer to what I'm about to offer up -- thoughts/scribblings that connect with all you've just said but also deviate, in some places, considerably. I guess I'm treating your thread as a "catch-all" to say a lot that's been on my mind, or that I've been putting off saying, where SW is concerned, recently. So, with that disclaimer and disclaimer for the disclaimer in place, I hope you won't be put off by what I've chosen to enter into your thread. It's all a bit decompressed and inchoate, I must admit, but it was fun to hash out. Nonetheless, before I begin, let me say: good work. You've done a lot to elucidate an aspect of the films that has never been examined till now. It will, doubtless, be illuminating to parse out more of these mini-narratives in the future.

    George Lucas and Sofia Coppola -- two of my all-time favourite film-makers (and, I know, yours, too) -- have a lot in common on this front. They both treat cinema as cinema. Their fascination is with flowing, cascading imagery first (shapes, colours, mood, tone, space, and so forth), and dialogue and dramatic schematics a distant second. Neither of them really works from a script so much as a blueprint, which they supplement with visual diaries and portfolios of different kinds, and then they go out and make a movie "on the fly", willing to tessellate and change their ideas as the material is collected and the finished movie (in the editing room) takes shape. Both, coincidentally or not, are also two of the most lauded yet despised film-makers in American cinema. Lucas is purportedly everything from a soulless technocrat to an out-and-out hack, while SC is a privileged little rich girl whose ability to make movies (or rather, ability to get her empty nonsense seen) allegedly comes only from the benefit of her second name. On IMDb and Amazon, their films are equally loved and hated with a passion normally reserved for xenophobic political movements or global terrorists.

    Okay, so here is where my self-indulgent ramblings truly begin...

    A vignette like the one involving the droids on Tatooine -- Threepio complaining about "our lot in life" and Artoo getting preyed upon by scavenging Jawas -- sketches out the absurdist heart of the Star Wars mythos. It's a bit like Samuel Beckett's "Waiting For Godot". Two characters on the lowest rung of the social ladder bicker and argue and traipse around and help cement the tragicomic flavour of the entire story. Threepio even remarks that he's "saved" when he eyes the sandcrawler, as Beckett's characters do at several points. Lucas plays with lofty concepts like salvation and ultimate reality by using language and showing strife at vastly different scales. And with sequels to this archetypal buddy-movie/existential scenario taking place in a land vast and strange, Lucas would massively expand his personal theatre of the absurd.

    Other ideas abound:

    - Artoo being zapped and falling over: the "sub" narrative is fallible and prone to its own subversion.

    - Threepio leaving himself as open to capture as Artoo: welcoming a non-threatening (apparently friendly) dot on the horizon.

    - Height differentials.

    - The human condition as farcical and nomadic.

    - Re-appropriation of electrocution/lightning motif (out of the hands of *the* Emperor, through the improvised weapons of mini-Emperor aliens). But also a reprise of Artoo getting shocked in the first act of the former movie (air(spaceship)/ground(desert planet)).

    - The desert itself as crude paradigm for the "alienness" of space and uncolonized worlds (Lucas has spoken of this). Also works as a proving ground -- a crucible --for forms and ideas which must undergo testing/alteration in this altered meta-verse (e.g., Jesus was tempted by Satan in Biblical lore while spending time in the wilderness -- i.e., the desert).

    - Threepio bumbles across a dessicated alien skeleton: he unconsciously renders himself a triangulate force in a living frieze where landscape, static bioform, and sentient mechanic are one.

    - Counterpoint to the eschatological poetry of the former movie (violent adjacentism). From immaculate digital montage with choral wailing -- "tragedy" at its zenith -- to a fallen, sublimely quotidian world. Smooth/sand.

    I like how the Millennium Falcon's turret lasers create these phosphorous explosions. TIE Fighters are like wheeled cannons -- ship designs hewing dangerously close to an outdated (and in SW, anachronistic/alien) era of gunpowder warfare (a bit like the wheeled rocket batteries used by the CIS on Geonosis) -- while, ironically, destroyed by a gunslinger anti-hero and his surprisingly trigger-happy companion/younger "brother". Igloo/tunnel entrances. Video/arcade-game quasi-interactivity. Buttons and tactile panels everywhere. Bulk, solidity. Hexagons/octagons. Circles/tubes. Inner/outer. Pits and extrusions. Documentary-man "war" coverage. "American Graffiti"-esque modding and exuberance.

    "This is no cave!" / "Now, this is podracing!"

    Echo Base marks another cave of sorts. And the exterior-interior "space slug" -- belly of the beast -- scene was actually filmed around the full-size Falcon model on the Echo Base set (draped in black, flooded with smoke -- it's almost TESB in microcosm). Cave imagery definitely gives TESB a claustrophobic feel. This is revisted in AOTC -- though, in AOTC, it's more of an "open claustrophobia", if that makes any sense.

    It's one of many visual narratives that also practically begs an idiom: "can't see the woods for the trees". Or in this case, with everything streaming by at hyperspace-like speed (similar stylization to Millennium Falcon-empowered star-hopping), can't see the trees for the woods. Another example: AOTC's opening: "every cloud has a silver lining" (until the silver lining is blowed up real good). What you've said there is very interesting, however. As in "THX", it's like some form of cinematic minimalism, expressing their bond by isolating the figures of Luke and Leia (and bike) against an insensible rush of forested nature: extreme distortion/vignetting.

    Freudian slip? :D
    It's an unusual action sequence, as well, because the main (human) protagonists -- unusually -- don't prosper, but end up immediately captured. Just as unusually, their droid shadow-selves are completely discarded at the same moment, setting the stage for an improbable second-phase action skit, which effectively happens (in a sense) entirely independently (yet as commentary upon) the extraordinary carnage around them. This passage on Geonosis also marks the only time in the prequel trilogy these iconic droids really have a joint adventure, with one of them literally getting mixed-up in the action.
    And again, I'm speaking on a mundane level, but it's interesting that neither Threepio-head-droid nor Threepio-body-droid are aware that they are comprised of mixed parts which is the result of a calamitous mix-up from blind automation; their disembodiment is merely rationalized as confusion (Threepio-head-droid) or needing maintenance (Threepio-body-droid). Indeed, they are both wandering warriors in a "fugue" state, brought out to combat on opposite sides of the movie frame, fated to be left as "junk" -- or "spare parts" -- until Artoo intervenes and changes the weave of the action; resurrects one half of them (but only one half of them), in essence.
    The drop down from the heavens at the start of each movie -- or the discreet PAN-UP into the heavens at the start of AOTC -- perhaps signals a sudden loss of epic infinitude, which must invariably collapse into a series of encrusted waypoints/patterns, only to slowly crawl back to the infinite again.

    Notice how, in this shot of Anakin in his podracer, he is glancing back very nearly at the viewer, as if aware there's a camera perched on his rear? In the next film, he even seems to be thrashing about in bed on Naboo because the camera is closing in on him. And in the final prequel film, he may finally become aware of the camera, this unblinking eye having almost "made" him into Darth Vader out of a consensual demand of the audience that sees through it. The least he can do is to return its fixed gaze with a hard stare when he goes to the Dark Side, in the Mustafar control room, where this Freudian fascination of ours has demanded he ultimately find himself within, having scotched his staid Jedi Knight-hood for an Orphic journey of self-discovery.
    A parallel violation occurs in the music: Eastern (Hans Zimmer/"Gladiator") wailing. This proves, IMO, how Lucas can suggest motion through stillness -- and even vice versa.
    In all this, one shouldn't overlook/forget contrapuntal examples -- that is, narratives that form or call out to each other across other narratives and pockets of film-time. One that I recently noticed is Dooku's solar sailor escape from Geonosis being redone with Obi-Wan and Anakin on Mustafar. Obi-Wan flees, like his grandfather figure, Dooku, and leaves behind a mutilated Anakin. But where is his sail? Anakin and Obi-Wan actually duel on it. Then it is pelted by lava, floats down a lava river, and disintegrates. The original solar sailor, amongst other things, is a none-too-subtle allusion to "Tron" -- but this is a pretty striking allusion given the film it is made within; and ROTS deepens the allusion by returning to it in a crafty way.
    Of course, there are millions of these threads.
    Another recent favourite of mine in AOTC involves Obi-Wan being framed between twinkling objects as he searches for Kamino in two consecutive Jedi Temple scenes.
    Sith lightsaber activation in climactic prequel movie duels is another recent fave. Maul ignites his twin blades slowly and deliberately. Dooku hesitates for a second when confronted by a boastful Obi-Wan after trying to break away, but is much more rapid about the activation than Maul. The Emperor activates his in a flash after realizing he is blocked from leaving his own office by Yoda.
    And then there are the more sweeping, operatic ones. Like the way a strong association is made between Amidala and Naboo and Jar Jar and Naboo in TPM's opening scenes. Situated in bright daylight -- a forest bathed in crepuscular rays -- Jar Jar is first found foraging for food (fffff) and proves to be particularly elastic in his first scene of the movie. In his last appearance, it's radically different: Naboo is frigid, it's night (or early dawn), and Jar Jar is clothed in heavy robes, his head down as he paces morbidly behind an Amidala at rest.
    Mini-narratives in Star Wars are always contingent on larger ones. Any narrative in isolation, while, in some sense, complete unto itself, is also strictly provisional when compared to a larger whole. This is part of the fun and flow of the films: how narratives form, disperse, collide, combine, divide, depart, and are reborn. And, of course, all this is highly subjective. We see through a flux. If it were otherwise, there would be no art to begin with. Yet -- provided we do see -- we can probably fairly say that mini-narratives are, from one POV, the main method, or a primary means, in which GL imbues the Star Wars saga with meaning and lyricism generally. Given (again, subjectively) the depth and breadth of his storytelling -- that is, the depth and breadth of his surrender to abstraction (buoyed by strong tonal and thematic concerns on a shot-by-shot, scene-by-scene, sequence-by-sequence, reel-by-reel, movie-by-movie, movie-pair-by-movie-pair, trilogy-by-trilogy basis) -- we are perhaps right to stand in awe at the scope and power of the finished (or endlessly unfinished >> unfurnished?) product.
    If my thoughts, thus far, haven't been prequel-heavy, they'll certainly go that way, now. More ruminations on prequel sequences:
    Order 66 discloses a number of fascinating symmetries and nested narratives. We have, of course, the setting of six planets (Coruscant, Mygeeto, Felucia, Kashyyyk, Cato Neimoidia, Saleucami), with the sequence -- by musical dictat -- starting and ending at Coruscant (although, again, by musical dictat, you could say its natural end-point extends to Mustafar). There are Jedi on named planets, Jedi on unnamed planets. Two Jedi on foot, two Jedi killed on vehicles in adjacent montages. Intercutting to Yoda, who senses something deeply amiss, and is the first (and only) targeted Jedi to fight back and save himself. There are crane shots, helicopter shots, medium shots, close-ups, etc. The colour schemes alternate and adumbrate. One is the saga's brief and only real flirtation with an oil-paint diorama (Felucia -- including the downed (green-skinned) Aayla Secura). Smoke, water, bridges, rocks, trees, and so on. Etc, etc. In fact, Order 66 is somewhat exceptional: it's a mini-narrative of mini-narratives quite clearly demarcated as such from the moment it is named (the only montage -- outside of the film titles themselves -- that really is). But there you have it: another expression of GL's genius; finding ways to shore up his grammar by creating fresh grammar that eloquently transcribes it.
    AOTC features its own myth-verse mazeology. We get the classic Star Wars storytelling device of transmogrification. For instance: various characters are stood on balconies or at ballustrades overlooking vistas at key points. Rhyming couplets -- dualities -- and other configurations offer further readings. Obi-Wan presiding over amassing clone troops on Kamino is effaced with Dooku -- Obi-Wan's grandfather figure (lineage is another motif in AOTC and SW generally) -- emerging from a similar opening/"birth canal" passage to subsequently preside over Obi-Wan and enslaved beings (one of whom is dressed in optic white -- like the clones; a singular female to their all-male), who are either literally chained to phallic posts or are prodded to meet them (from an opposing screen enclave) in a deathmatch by hive-minded alien termites wielding taser spears. Sticks, stakes, chains, arrows, gratings, cables, cuffs, ropes, etc., repeatedly appear (or re-appear). The very words "attack" and "clones" are etymologically rooted in further words pertaining to sticks ("attack": stake, attach; "clone": twig, stick). Christopher Lee, famous for playing blood-sucking creatures that can only be killed by a stake through the chest, naturally stars as Dooku. That the positions of Obi-Wan and Dooku reverse is an inevitable consequence of the archaic hierarchical structures to which they are both bound (and is consistent with a film that toys with perspective, positioning, and reversals even more than its progenitors). Ironically (poetically), the very beings Obi-Wan earlier presided over, are those who rescue Obi-Wan (in this film) from imminent death. Dooku is then pursued for capture, just as Jango was (the word "take" is even mouthed by Obi-Wan as if Dooku were a material object that can be appropriated)-- more irony for an order that supposedly preaches peace and forbids possession.
    You can see how easy it is to get carried away teasing out moral structures and moral lessons. Though this, according to Lucas, is his rationale for making Star Wars, or imbuing it with the form it has, in the first place and on to this day. Yet these mini-narratives and endless cross-firings may put Star Wars beyond morality per se. Attempts at hard structure -- rote facts -- break down when one penetrates the hardened shell, or renders it permeable, when one's targeting computer (confined to basal logic/simple algorithms) is switched off. Or as Emerson wrote: "Every solid in the universe is ready to become fluid on the approach of mind, and the power to flux it is the measure of the mind. If the wall remain adamant, it accuses the want of thought. To a subtler force, it will stream into new forms." Qui-Gon's axiom -- "Be mindful of the living Force" -- is the same language, just in a more Lucasian register. Structurally (the first spoken injunction of the series), it functions as epigraph for the prequel trilogy, and as fitting overture for the entire Star Wars saga in its megalithic density. Not long after this, the Jedi meet Jar Jar -- an elastic, renewable creature-guide (an outcast, a kind "djinn", a fool)-- and and are soon swimming underwater in the direction of bubble jewels, themselves amenable to passage.
    Colours have their own narratives. So do ships, buildings, people, costumes, weather patterns, and so on. And more "external" entities, too: like the cinematography and compositional style, editing and action beats, sound field, musical orchestration, mix of practical and digital elements, etc. That each film encloses a subset of mini-narratives speaks to the avant-garde film-maker in George Lucas. In his mind, he is a maker of non-commercial, abstract, non-linear, anti-authoritarian, ellipitical, underground "tone" poems. He's graphical, not philological. He deals with the arcane, the mundane, even "trash", and turns it into the radical. He would rather be seen as a toy-maker than a director. He's an architect, a mechanic, a tinkerer. He likes to put things together in new arrangements; he does not like to be told to conform to existing codes and trends. His mini-narratives are a celebration of the Cubist nature of his medium -- mosaic "sense", in one way, prevailing over the rational intellect. Put another way, his process/technique is a rejection of history as rationally explicable or something that is apt to be conveyed in written language which is subject to violent ambiguities and paradoxes (see Robert Smithson's "A Heap Of Language"). These mini-narratives are, in some sense, a repudiation of the corny verities of history as we know them, and a way of Lucas illustrating that global happenings and global catastrophes are more indebted to local developments -- accidents/farce/misunderstandings/apoplexia -- than we are given (through vanity, pride, fear, and general ignorance) to realize. Mini-narratives, then, are a way of Lucas "playing" with his tools and talents, but they also cement a world-view which is far more nuanced than the "Flash Gordon" operatics draped on top (the two, of course, are an in interplay; an endless dialogue; a dialectic).
    So... just a few thoughts about how all this works, could work, or could be seen to work.
    And apologies for the mangled formatting. This board is only kind to nerds, not super-nerds.
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  7. Ingram_I

    Ingram_I Jedi Master star 4

    Sep 7, 2012

    No, Cryogenic, say what you really mean...;)

    Fascinating read. I won’t respond to every portion of your post…for the same reason I cannot chew bubble gum and land a helicopter at the same time. Also, when Emerson quotes start entering the discourse, whoa, it’s time for me to check my compass and machete-hack my way clear of all the 'cigar-and-brandy' intellectualism, else I be swallowed whole. I may sound all smarty sophisticated on the outside, but deep down I’m just another 'Ted' Theodore Logan. However, I will cherry-pick a few of your thoughts.
    That right there better expresses what I was trying to say. It’s like, boom! we open with shaped titles and scrolls, and a shot of deep space -- said macroverse -- before narrowing our field of view to a relative handful of local galactic happenings.
    The first time I’ve ever picked up on that. Anakin’s moment in Episode III really is a fourth wall breaker, which is pretty damn disturbing in its implication. Only when the saga reaches its darkest, most evil depths does it stop to acknowledge the audience. Then again, in the planet core pic I posted in my Part 2 section, Qui-Gon does seem to be looking right at us as well, with a faint, knowing smile.
    Attack of the Balcony Views: Anakin at Padme’s apartment, the two of them sharing their first kiss at a lakeside retreat, Yoda and Mace overlooking Palpatine at the center of the senate chamber, Palpatine overlooking the clone army at the end of the film… Lucas really doubled up here with this motif. Episode II is nothing if not an expose of prime real estate and resorts with scenic views.
    Another first for me. It’s as if Lucas knew full well that audiences were expecting all the long-hyped endgame "good stuff "-- Anakin and Obi-Wan’s duel, the rise of Vader etc. -- without really being prepared for the subverting roads it would take to get there, and basically said through Qui-Gon’s character, "Look, guys, keep an open mind here, because things are about to get weird." No doubt, ten minutes later we meet a digital Buster Chaplin in caricature form that salutes Tex Avery (a curve ball if there ever was one) followed further down with midichlorians, of all things.
    This very thread is the result of Lucoppolas binge in which I’m currently active. Over the past three weeks I’ve been hitting up the filmography of these two, proceeding in order. This coming week I continue with Marie Antoinette and the Original Trilogy; the week after it’s the Prequels and the first week of June I go Somewhere, in preparation for The Bling Ring. To complicate matters, last week I also watched FF’s The Conversation (among my Top 10 films). So, yeah, everything you said: cinema as cinema. And SC is indeed one of my favorite filmmakers, which says a lot in that so much of her content should logically not interest me; I’m a guy who loves Predator and Chuck Norris movies. Go figure.
    More specifically, windup toys: little stories that go.
  8. Ingram_I

    Ingram_I Jedi Master star 4

    Sep 7, 2012
    I’ve definitely considered that as well, though I think Spielberg is a bit more conventional at the same time, or at least more traditional. Where Lucas’ storytelling can be broken down further and further into abstract nesting doll narratives, Spielberg seems to invent set pieces more purely for invention’s sake, like Rube Goldberg contraptions. Spielberg is a watchmaker of a director, more like Curtiz or Hitchcock. His best talent is building/assembling all the little gears and catches that brings a sequence to life with thrills, though not really as an explorative mini-narrative in and of itself. Yet, especially with the Indiana Jones series, the similarities are strong.
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  9. Cryogenic

    Cryogenic Force Ghost star 5

    Jul 20, 2005
    I know, I know. Excitable Gungans should be seen and not heard. :D

    LOL. S'alright, I'm more of your friendly neighbourhood Jar Jar. I only go in for some of this cigar-and-brandy -- hey, mine's a whiskey (Suntory, of course) -- intellectualism because it's cute. There is probably some resonance in this saying of Socrates: "By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll be happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher." Though, I'm not married, for the record. :p

    The Emerson quotation comes to me from an essay included in the DVD/Blu-ray combo for Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Tokyo Sonata". Along with Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere", it's my favourite film of the last five years. Both, in their own ways, are surreal, sublime masterpieces, IMO: of mood, character, landscape, etc. It helps that they're both quite minimalist and intimate on their own terms; and quite unlike other cinema that's already out there.

    ANAKIN: There's so many. Do they all have a system of planets?
    QUI-GON: Most of them.
    ANAKIN: I wanna be the first one to see 'em all!

    (ALSO: many, most, one, all)

    There are various examples of a character glancing directly at the viewer. One of my faves concerns Cliegg Lars, who looks awkwardly at the audience for a split-second when he's talking about the Tuskens: "Those Tuskens walk like men, but they're vicious, mindless monsters..." From another POV, the saga is nothing but one long acknowledgement of the audience: its whims, misapprehensions, fears, hopes, concerns, etc. Even the relative positioning of the audience is taken into account. For instance, when Jar Jar tells Qui-Gon that his servitude to Qui-Gon is "demanded by the gods", he is obliquely making reference to the seated audience, which sits over the proceedings as if up in a cheap balcony at the theatre (the cheap seats being called "the gods" either because those who sit in them are watching over a play like gods or because they're closer to artistic representations of gods on a theatre's ceiling). Because the camera pans down at the start of TPM, the audience is, by definition, watching from a high vantage point.

    That's an interesting interpretation. I would turn "real estate" into "virtual estate", however, given my own reading of this film's visuals and themes. The motif begins with Palpatine idly glancing out his office window before he makes his suggestion that Padme be placed under the direct protection of the Jedi ("your graces"). Padme herself is then seen idly looking out at the cityscape at the lip of her apartment's terrace before turning to greet Obi-Wan (and then, after she realizes, Anakin). Even Jar Jar and Threepio get their chance to imperiously preside over rabbles of different kinds, in the Senate on Coruscant and at the droid factory on Geonosis, respectively. It's in this episode where Palpatine is shown or suggested to have ingratiated himself with the Senate and promoted a certain kind of demagoguery which seems to have rippled throughout the galaxy.

    The motif may -- nay, does! -- have other functions, like placing emphasis on the plebeian/patrician divide, which is a key narrative sub-component of the prequel trilogy, and the SW saga more generally. There is never more angst about it than in AOTC ("Jedi business, go back to your drinks"). It is manifestly the case that only so many people can fit on a balcony at any one time (with respect to the hordes they are usually looking out on and/or being acknowledged by), and that their use of and conspicuous bodily arrangement in such things is, first, a measure of their aristocratic remove from a larger populace, and second, a means of implying superior breeding and even providential rectitude. They are -- as AOTC's final scenic juxtaposition seems to imply -- like flowers in a pot, pruned and cut off from the fecund, messy expanse of nature that originally gave rise to them.

    We pretty much agree. It depends how you wanna see things, of course, but the prequel trilogy wasn't really written till it was written (or made). In fact, it *still* hasn't been written/made -- we continually make and re-make it every time we watch, ruminate upon, and trade thoughts about it. We must not only be mindful of the surprises Lucas springs on us, but on the surprises we spring on ourselves; or, in other words, we must cultivate an awareness of or a living appreciation toward -- Emerson again: the fluxing power of our minds -- the nature of art and experiencing the transcendent in all that we do or have happen to us.

    "My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God"

    I'm looking forward to "The Bling Ring" and just re-watched "Somewhere", myself. I'm somewhat surprised Sofia has made the switch to digital so soon (yes, everyone is going that direction, now), but TBR is also the last film shot by Harris Savides (his lighting on "Somewhere" is just -- gaaaaaagggh! AMAZING!). It's gonna look a treat. Yes, there is something very engaging about the two film-makers (Lucas and S. Coppola). It's quite fitting that GL cast SC in TPM (oof, acronyms). Her maligned Mary from "The Godfather, Part III" in some way shadows the sad, wearied, distanced -- arrested, monolithic -- performance of Natalie Portman in Lucas' second SW trilogy (deepened by Padme being an Oedipal clone of Shmi, the saga's clear "Mother Mary" figure). And gratifyingly, Lucas draws heavily on his mentor Francis' third installment in his second trilogy's own third chapter (the opera scene, for one). I will contend that the prequel trilogy is George Lucas' Dionysiac to F.F. Coppola's Apollonian tragedy. The two make a whole. And Hayden Christensen, for the record, appears in Sofia Coppola's first feature, "The Virgin Suicides". Her and Lucas are quite close (Lucas having known Sofia from birth), and in 2010 (by the way, I owe this information to IMDb's amidalasky), Lucas actually took to the stage at a special screening of "Somewhere" at the Letterman Digital Arts Complex:

    I must pay money for one of these images in full size, too:

    Anyway, yes. I feel I know what you mean. Her movies get me, too, even though I don't often go looking for that more esoteric kind of film experience (I do, but in dribs and drabs -- reticently, reluctantly; the same way I do just about anything). I figure they're as seductive as any action flick. Just as pornographic, but different. And unlike action films, which are a dime a dozen, only one person is speaking this language. If you want a bit more Sofia in your life -- and why not, eh? -- here are a couple of essential treats:

    The guy builds -- and has literally helped line the shelves of -- toy stores, too.

    This, again, speaks to the experimental artist that is George Lucas; and all that he has changed along the way.
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